Lheidli T’enneh Nation celebrates historic night with first potlatch in nearly a century

In Dakelh language, it is known as Balhats – a potlatch.

And on Nov. 29 the Lheidli T’enneh hosted its first potlatch in 73 years.

The event took place at The House of The Ancestors in Prince George, B.C.

Clifford Quaw, a Lheidli Elder, was proud to be a part of the ceremony.

“I am really proud to say I was part of it. Part and partial to set up of our first Balhats in our territory since 1947,” said Quaw.

Darlene McIntosh is also a Lheidli Elder.

She sees the Balhats as regaining what has been lost.

“It feels absolutely fantastic. It’s a new beginning for us. It is a way to get back our culture, our language and all that was taken away from us,” she said.

Quaw is a second-generation residential school survivor and said his community has faced challenges keeping the culture alive when elders pass on.

“Finally, the syndrome took over, and everybody just didn’t care, didn’t care nothing, and nothing was passed on,” said Quaw. “All our elders passed away, and when they passed away, you were losing a whole dictionary.

“A Lheidli T’enneh dictionary and they passed away without passing on their knowledge.”

McIntosh notes another reason it was difficult was due to being an urban nation.

“Because we are so urbanized in community, it wasn’t as easily brought back as some of the outlying reservations that have maintained their potlatch or Balhats,” stated McIntosh.

One month ago, neighbouring communities and elders gathered in Lhiedli territory to share their knowledge of how to carry out the ceremony.

“Balhats brings the people together. This is a big, big first step in doing that. To respect one another, love one another, help one another now that we are unified as a nation,” said Quaw.

At the Balhats, there was protocol, dancing and food shared. It was also the celebration of a partnership with the Prince George school district.

Many of the educators were in attendance to witness as a part of a commitment to reconciliation.

“I think that’s important when we have the Balhats here that we are coming into their governance system and meeting on the local first nation’s terms. That is one of the big steps is building a true relationship. That how we get truth and reconciliation is healing through a respectful relationship,” said Trent Derrick, a Trustee, at School District 57.

The elders have been waiting for Balhats to return. This day comes from a commitment to them and the youth who will benefit from their knowledge.

“We have had a lot of elders who have talked about the old ways and they always wanted to see this coming,” said Lheidli T’enneh Chief Clayton Poutney. “ This seemed like a perfect opportunity with the school district working together and having that accountability piece because we have done signings, we have done pieces like this looking after our kids but this piece solidifies it in our way.”

Mcintosh sees Balhats as a way for children to learn protocols and connect with their roots.

“The honouring of bringing our elders back, our knowledge holders, that are so very important. If we can get our children starting protocol at a young age, then it becomes a norm for them, and it makes them better, whole and complete people,” said Mcintosh.